Who is referred to as a free bird in the poem "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou? Why?

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The free bird is one that "leaps" onto the wind and "floats downstream" on its breezes. He "dips his wing" in the orange rays of the sun and "claims" the sky as his own. He fears nothing, and he seems to have no cares in the world, confident in his...

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The free bird is one that "leaps" onto the wind and "floats downstream" on its breezes. He "dips his wing" in the orange rays of the sun and "claims" the sky as his own. He fears nothing, and he seems to have no cares in the world, confident in his ability. His life is dramatically different from the caged bird that "stalks" around his confines and sees through "bars of rage"; his "wings are clipped"—he is unable to fly at all—and his "feet are tied" so he cannot run. He is not even given the opportunity to test his ability.

It is the caged bird who sings as a result of his terrible confinement and his desire for freedom. It seems, then, that the caged bird is symbolic of anyone who is limited or prevented from attaining freedom or independence, while the free bird is not limited in this way. The free bird possesses privilege, the magical tacit currency that permits it a freedom that the caged bird lacks, a freedom that allows it to even take its freedom for granted because it has never known anything different. This could be white privilege, the privilege conferred on a person due to their wealth, or male privilege even. The free bird is a privileged member of society.

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The "free bird" referred to in Angelou's poem can be assumed to represent those who do not suffer from the systematic oppression which has locked the "caged bird" into his metaphorical cage, where he is tied down with clipped wings and unable to see "through / his bars of rage." The "free bird," drawn in opposition to his caged brother, has opportunities which the caged bird cannot imagine, able to ride "on the back of the wind" and having sufficient daring to "claim the sky" as his own. The free bird, we can assume, has never known what it is like to live in a cage; he has the confidence of one who has always been free, and thinks only of the beautiful world through which he can fly and the "fat worms" which await him. His world is markedly different to that of the bird who stands on "the grave of dreams," able only to long for the freedom this other bird has always enjoyed.

Given that the poem is a metaphorical representation of the African-American struggle, we can infer that the free bird represents white or otherwise privileged Americans. Unlike their caged companions, they have never felt restrained by the very structure of the environment in which they live, and they can barely imagine how that would feel.

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